Final Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Eph.2:19–22)

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is wrestling with the issue of same-gender marriage. Responding to this struggle, the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) directed the Moderator

… to appoint a special committee, representing the broad diversity and theological balance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to study the following, … including any policy recommendations growing out of the study:

  1. The history of the laws governing marriage and civil union, including current policy debates.
  2. How the theology and practice of marriage have developed in the Reformed and broader Christian tradition.
  3. The relationship between civil union and Christian marriage.
  4. The effects of current laws on same-gender partners and their children.
  5. The place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community. (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 259)

As members of Christ’s church, we differ profoundly; but can we see that those who disagree with us are seeking to love one another with God’s grace, advance the gospel in all its far-reaching inclusiveness, and promote greater faithfulness to the Triune God under the authority of Scripture and guided by the confessions? Though we reach very different conclusions, we can rejoice that our church is willing to wrestle together prayerfully with the question: How do we extend the grace of God to all, calling all persons to repentance, transformation, and discipleship—regardless of sexual orientation—so that all will experience God’s gracious intention for humanity?

In many ways, life in the body of Christ is not unlike a marriage: In the course of our life together, we have good days and bad days, good times and challenging times, great joy and wrenching pain. We talk, we laugh, we cry. We agree and disagree. Occasionally, we get angry and are tempted to walk away. But like Christian marriage, in the body of Christ we know that the One who holds us together is more important than the arguments that threaten to tear us apart. That One is Jesus Christ, who said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34–35). Included in the mandate of this special committee was a directive that the PC(USA) constitutional definition of Christian marriage not be changed. In our confessions, marriage is consistently defined as a lifelong covenant between God, a man and a woman, and the community of faith.

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  1. It would seem reasonable to me to assume that people's beliefs about most of these questions are heavily influenced by their interpretations of statements in the Bible. Curiously, the committee was not charged with the study of the six or seven "clobber" passages in the Bible which many people believe discuss same-gender sexual behavior. That would not be a simple task, because many religious conservatives believe that all of the passages discuss God's extreme condemnation of same-sex relationships of all types, while many liberals believe that the Bible is silent on loving, committed same-sex relationships. That is a rather wide gulf to bridge.

    by Bruce Robinson

    June 23, 2014